Watson was at sea for 210 days but her record is not being regarded as official [AFP]

A 16-year-old Australian girl finished a seven-month-long journey to become the youngest sailor to circle the globe solo, non-stop and unassisted.

Thousands of spectators cheered as Jessica Watson sailed into Sydney Harbour on Saturday, the finale to an epic adventure in which she battled 12-metre waves, homesickness and critics who said she'd never make it home alive.

Watson's feat, however, will not be considered an official world record, because the World Speed Sailing Record Council discontinued its "youngest" category.

And though she sailed nearly 23,000 nautical miles, some sailing enthusiasts have also argued that Watson didn't travel far enough north of the equator for her journey to count as a true round-the-world sail as defined by the record council's rules.

"I don't consider myself a hero. I'm an ordinary girl who believed in her dream"

Jessica Watson, 16, round-the-world sailor

Watson docked at the city's Opera House, bursting into tears and gasping in relief as she stepped off her yacht and into the arms of her parents, whose decision to let their daughter attempt such a feat was seen by some as irresponsible.

Clinging onto her father and brother as she tried to find her land legs, Watson walked tentatively along a pink carpet rolled out in her honour – her first steps on land in 210 days.

"People don't think you're capable of these things – they don't realise what young people, what 16-year-olds and girls are capable of," Watson told the raucous crowd, many wearing pink clothes and waving pink flags to match her yacht, Ella's Pink Lady.

"It's amazing when you take away those expectations what you can do."

'New hero'

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd greeted Watson at the Opera House with a grin and a hug, dubbing her "Australia's newest hero" – a description Watson dismissed.

"I'm actually going to disagree with the Prime Minister," she said.

"I don't consider myself a hero. I'm an ordinary girl who believed in her dream."

Watson, from Buderim, north of Brisbane in Queensland state, sailed out of Sydney on October 18 despite protests by critics that she was too immature and inexperienced for the treacherous journey.

Her parents maintained that she was well-prepared and noted she has been sailing since she was eight.

Watson's journey took her northeast through the South Pacific and across the equator, south to Cape Horn at the tip of South America, across the Atlantic Ocean to South Africa, through the Indian Ocean and around southern Australia.

Her managers have dismissed claims that she did not achieve a "true" record and argued she doesn't need to adhere to the council's rules anyway, since it won't be recognising her voyage.

The route took Watson through some of the world's most treacherous waters, and the teen battled through monstrous storms and suffered seven knockdowns.

Australian Jesse Martin holds the current record for the youngest person to sail around the world solo, nonstop and unassisted, after he completed the journey in 1999 at the age of 18.

Martin boarded Watson's boat after she'd crossed the finish line, allowing her to relax and wave to fans as she cruised across the harbour.

Source: Associated Press